LOOK BACK: Torchwood – Aliens Among Us

Torchwood’s audio continuation has proven integral with my work as a critic of Doctor Who spin-off media. Big Finish announced its plan for an ongoing series just as I became BlogtorWho’s audio editor. One of the perks of the job was assigning myself to review Torchwood releases. As it turned out, the first part of series six marked my final review before I moved on.

Now that The Who Shelf is established, it seems a shame not to continue reviewing the series. Even if I’m stretching the definition somewhat to look at a Doctor Who audio book. If you want to read my full reviews on series five and the first volume of series six, you can find them here.

But if you want the condensed version about the series as a whole, here’s a handy guide.

Torchwood: Aliens Among Us
Torchwood: Aliens Among Us
Torchwood: Aliens Among Us

Series five started out strong with the reintroduction of Torchwood as a Cardiff-based organisation. Continuing the plot seeded in several monthly range releases, Gwen and Jack have reunited and have gained enough support to restart Torchwood as a legitimate organisation with the aid of Mr. Colchester. Having stories set in the present day means writers can be more contemporary with ideas and references. This has led to some terrific episodes that could only work in the late 2010s like Escape Room, Zero Hour and The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood.

Colchester is probably one of the standout characters in the new series. As a mostly-straight white atheist I can’t pretend to offer much perspective on representation of interfaith LGBT relationships between middle-aged characters in media. But it certainly feels like it’s an otherwise underexplored area for Torchwood to look at. Quite apart from anything else, Paul Clayton gives Colchester a wonderful dry wit that contrasts nicely with Captain Jack’s bravado.

There’s also Orr, who is definitely my favourite character of the new series. Any more discussion of Orr means going deeper into gender representation than I’m comfortable doing (see above). But I just think they’re an addition to the team that doesn’t rely on broad stereotypes and the way Orr is written fits them into the team very naturally. It’s weirdly reminiscent of Data from Star Trek.

Fun Fact

Because Mr Colchester’s first name wasn’t really used until later on, the Doctor Who Wiki refers to me as a “professional reviewer” who missed this detail being included in an earlier episode. Which is a sweet but totally mistaken way to refer to plucky volunteer writers who offer their opinions for free online.

Signing Out

When a major stumbling block emerged, the creative team turned it into a strength. Eve Myles, an actor as integral to Torchwood as John Barrowman, was unable to commit to the full series. Moreover, she’s expressed interest in retiring the character of Gwen Cooper in the past. Rather than hastily writing Gwen out, the writers (with input from Russell T Davies) concocted a series-long arc that would work around Myles’ schedule and give Gwen a worthy sendoff. This proved to be one of the best moments in the series so far and, while we’ll hear more of Gwen in the monthly range, a great way to end her story.

However, there were some downsides that made it a challenging series in which to get invested. Chief among them was the format. The twelve episode series was split into three parts released over six months. This was fine for the episodic nature of the stories, but it made ongoing subplots hard to keep track of.

Poker Face

This came into sharp relief for me when part three came out, resolving a cliffhanger and taking place on the same night. The intervening four months between releases meant I forgot most of the details and was pretty lost in the first episode. I listened to the entire series again in the lead-up to God Among Us and found that it works far better when all three parts are listened to consecutively.

The Empty Hand by Tim Foley
The Empty Hand by Tim Foley

At the same time, the break between each volume resulted in some character development being dropped. Andy, for example, got an excellent story in part two that put his future with the police into doubt. However, by the time part three rolled he was still with the force and his decision to quit is never addressed. Instead, Andy gets a romantic subplot with Yvonne. Similarly, Captain Jack is sacked from Torchwood when Yvonne comes back on the scene. This has a lasting impact in part three but, by the time series six, starts Jack and Yvonne are sharing an uneasy co-leadership without Jack’s reinstatement ever mentioned.

Speaking of Yvonne, Tracy-Ann Oberman’s upgrade to the main cast was a welcome one but the way it was handled felt like wasted potential. With the introduction of Yvonne Hartman’s counterpart from Pete’s World, she’s effectively been reset to zero. Original Yvonne is still dead and nothing we have or will learn about her in other audios has any bearing on her continuing appearances. I just felt to me like there were ways to reintroduce Yvonne without the contrivances needed to explain how the parallel Yvonne arrived and stuck around undetected for over a decade. That being said, Oberman is a terrific actor and Yvonne’s personality clashes with Captain Jack make for great drama.

Today sees the release of series six, volume two – God Among Us – and as discussed I’ll be writing a review. But hopefully this gives you some idea of where I am with the series, the things I’m looking out for and where I think it excels.

Have you heard series five or six of Torchwood? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @WhoShelf.

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